Editorial Welcome

Welcome to the first electronic volume of Public History Review (PHR). PHR has been published annually since 1992. In that year, we hoped in the editorial that:

Public History Review functions, metaphorically speaking, at the point where all rivers meet; that is, it provides firstly a forum for historians working in heritage, government departments, radio, television, schools, museums, freelance and any other area of the culture, who wish to pursue some issues relating to their work in greater depth, reflect on some issue of practice, comment on other historical representations or extend our knowledge of public history as a field of study. Secondly we welcome contributions from others such as conservation architects, archaeologists and… [others] who wish to comment on history-related matters. And finally we aim to engage academic historians more fully with the concerns of the public, and public history work; to inform and challenge, to articulate the creative tensions between theory and practice.’

The field of public history has grown and diversified over the last thirty years. In Australia there are now as many, if not more, public or freelance historians than academic historians. Institutionally, in the USA, the field, which has been established there longer than elsewhere, has been recognised in a number of ways including the establishment of the National Council on Public History in 1979. Public history is also on the rise in the UK, though it has been present in the culture for decades under other guises. The first international public history conference in Britain was held in September 2005 at Ruskin College, Oxford, where eminent ‘public’ historian Raphael Samuel taught for most of his life.

Over the years that we have been editing PHR new technologies have emerged for the communication of historical work. We have chosen to join the digital revolution in this format to facilitate the global exchange of ideas. In the last decades of the twentieth century history has become more democratic and this has been reflected in and encouraged by the public history movement.

Public history is flourishing in and across countries and cultures in various modes. This is apparent in the number and diversity of popular, accessible historical activities and productions located outside the academy. History is on the airwaves, the internet, on film and television, in newspapers and in classrooms; it is represented in museums and public rituals. The past is actively pursued in the present by a range of people and groups, such as family and local history societies, for a variety of purposes. Social movements represent themselves historically for political legitimacy. These and other developments have led to an academic interest in historical consciousness. Public history can also be linked to the rise of the nation state. The past, indeed, has always had many uses in the present.

Public history is a broad field. It also has a particular concern with audience. We look forward to furthering the journal’s original aims and objectives.

Paul Ashton and Paula Hamilton

Published: 2006-03-20